Home Articles New Year, Fresh Start: 2006

    New Year, Fresh Start: 2006


    Traditionally, as the year winds down and temperatures soar, Australia’s professionals forsake the board room for the beach and barbeques. This summer, take advantage of the January lull and get a jump on your competitors. Renew your business plan, refresh your brand and revive your passion. Start the New Year ready to raise hell (and maybe some capital, too). By Jodie O’Keeffe.


    Have you had a good 12 months? Could it have been better? With the New Year nigh, it’s time to put your big ideas into action. Unless you’re an expert in every facet of business, you’re going to need advice. Why not spend your summer tuning the big picture and plotting a course to prosperity in ’06?

    Business planning

    Even the fittest business needs re-assessment and the summer holiday hiatus is the perfect time to revisit your business strategy, refine your business plan, analyse efficiency and update your financials.

    Business is subject to constant change: markets turn, industry landscapes shift, new legislation is enacted, and competitors come and go. The company financials are often in a state of flux, ideally swinging ever upward.

    Your business plan is a living document, evolving to keep up with (and even ahead of) reality. After a busy year-end, Deloitte’s Growth specialist Jeremy Bolt says now is the time to cast a critical eye over the financials, the processes and the strategies that make up your business.

    “Go through your accounts payable and identify your largest creditors. Ask yourself, how can I save some of that money? Re-negotiate vendor agreements, get a better deal with a different vendor or do some of that work in-house,” says Bolt.

    Now you’ve saved a bit of spare cash, try to optimise your business processes.

    “When you’re small, things are informal and you can sit in the corner and bark instructions at people. As you grow, you need supervisors and managers, who redefine your business processes,” says Bolt. “You may have come out of a busy December – the perfect time to identify bottlenecks, structural issues and address any staff frustrations.”

    Gail Geronimos, Director of corporate advisory service Achaeus, recommends a year-end financial review followed by a close inspection of your client base to uncover submerged market trends.

    “Look back at the previous 12 months and check if your customer base has changed. If it has, why? If your client list is the same but your revenue has decreased, find out why,” says Geronimos.

    “It’s a good trigger to start identifying trends. Is it harder to sell into that base? Is the market more difficult? Why? What changed? Is there new competition or new legislation? Identify the issue and form an action plan.”

    Richard Llewellyn, of corporate advisory service Llewellyn & Associates, agrees that January offers an ideal opportunity for self-reflection, allowing a business some space to identify strengths and weaknesses. Llewellyn has developed a software product, 10Squared, to evaluate the performance of innovative businesses against industry benchmarks.

    “It’s good discipline to assess your business annually, but a fast-growth company might reassess every six months,” says Llewellyn. “Of course, you’ve got to be able to implement the required changes in the meantime.”

    10Squared measures performance against ten business categories, with ten elements per category and each score is weighted. A high 10Squared score can be a predictor of future performance.

    “Seven years ago, with their first round of seed funding, recruitment site Seek achieved one of our highest scores ever,” says Llewellyn. “It’s no surprise they are so successful today.”



    • Question your business goals
    • Re-analyse your industry, market and competitors
    • Review financial performance
    • Prepare projected P&L and Balance Sheet



    Showcase your best assets with a clearly defined business identity and protect them with a smart IP strategy. Rethink your marketing strategy, make your brand consistent, shore up your IP and start the year with confidence.

    Every business starts out as an idea with potential. That idea could spawn a design, product, brand, logo, slogan, website and more ideas. As your business gets bigger, keep an eye on your IP and use clear branding to make customers aware of it.

    The best way to do this is to conduct an IP audit. You can DIY or engage an IP specialist to help. According to Karen Sinclair, Principal at Watermark Patent and Trademark Attorneys, the IP audit is all about maximising the value of your suite of IP.

    “An annual audit ensures all your IP is still relevant to your business,” says Sinclair. “It will also help you identify opportunities to licence or sell redundant IP.”

    Publicly available IP databases can also be used to sniff out a little competitive intelligence.

    “Checking out the patent applications of your competitors will give you an idea of where the market is heading. Not only that, you can find out the names of the main inventors and potentially poach them,” says Sinclair.

    During the year, you may have developed new IP without realising. Small changes to branding, labelling, packaging and taglines can constitute creative genius worth protecting. And, if your audit fails to identify any new IP, it could be time to freshen up your brand.

    Creative consultant Anna Spargo-Ryan suggests an objective view. “When you’re so close to your image, you understand it but others might not. It’s more than just a logo. People should grasp the philosophy of your business from a seven second explanation,” says Spargo-Ryan.

    Brilliant ideas can be difficult to explain, especially the highly technical variety.

    “Use buzzwords,” says Spargo-Ryan, “use words that are accepted by the general media to describe new technologies. Not everyone will understand them, but they will usually maintain interest.”

    And don’t forget to brand yourself. “Human beings are brands as well. If you go to a VC, the first thing they look at is the lead entrepreneur, then the team, then the idea,” says professional image coach Jon Michail.

    “There’s no point saying ‘I’ve got a great idea’ – you have to package the whole lot properly. Even something as basic as clothes and hairstyle makes a big difference. VCs don’t like anyone looking desperate”, says Michail


    • Conduct an IP audit
    • Incorporate latent IP into your brand
    • Clarify your business philosophy
    • Give your brand a reality check
    • Get a haircut (maybe audit your wardrobe!)



    Does your office suit the size, shape and stage of your business? Be in the right place at the right time, set up from home, move to an incubator, technology park or enterprise centre, lease some commercial space or create a virtual office.

    Moving office is a big job. When you’re busy with the business of business, relocating is easy to postpone. However, operating from an ill suited office can negatively affect the growth of your company.

    How can you tell when it’s time to move? One of the main drivers for moving office is money. If finance is tight, it’s probably time to give up the palatial office and scale down or give up the rented office and move back home until things look up.

    According to Sue Bell, president of Technology Parks and Incubators Australia, deciding when to scale up is not so clear-cut. “It’s not something you’ll find in a textbook. Of course, you have to be able to sustain the financial responsibility. Beyond that, it’s a people thing, it’s not a business thing,” says Bell. “Working from home or inappropriate office space can become distracting and unprofessional. There’s also a danger of becoming professionally and socially isolated. You lose touch with your market, trends and clients.”

    Co-locating in an incubator or tech park could be the way to avoid isolation and invigorate your working environment. There are facilities around Australia catering to all kinds of businesses, but choose one that works for your company.

    “Visit potential sites and talk to management. Apart from the facilities and programs on offer, it’s often a personal connection. You need to feel comfortable with the people and the surroundings,” says Bell.

    Incubators are particularly focused on mentoring and networking, but aspiring tenants must also be worthy of a place in such a supportive, nurturing environment. For example, a business accepted into Queensland’s i.lab must survive the selection process of application, interview, presentation and due diligence before joining the community of resident high-achievers. i-Labs Chief Executive, Anne-Marie Birkill, elaborates: “In addition to meeting the basic criteria that defines a ‘start-up’ company, we look for those organisations that are ‘coachable’ – meaning their business models and goals are suited to take full advantage of the support and nurturing offered by an incubator.”

    For the business that prefers to fly solo, commercial leasing is an option. Hamish Sutherland of CB Richard Ellis recommends a serviced office as a stepping stone to a full-scale commercial lease. “A serviced office provides a fast-growth company with flexibility to expand,” says Sutherland. “Once a company is ready for a commercial lease, however, a quality address in a strong location adds stature to a start-up.”

    Being in the right environment is crucial to the success of your company. Ignore the chore of actually moving and instead consider the benefits of a new office: a fresh start, a new sense of identity and a place where you can finally offer your clients a decent coffee.


    • Can you afford a new office?
    • Can you afford your old office?
    • Consider moving to a tech park or incubator
    • Use a serviced office to scale up or scale down quickly



    Business moves fast, technology moves faster. Revamp your web presence, update your software and hardware and tighten up security to stay ahead of the game.

    Many companies live or die on the strength of their web presence. If yours is one of them, get the most from your website in 2006 with a few insider tips.

    It’s vital to have a web address refl ecting the name or nature of your business, but the domain itself is also significant.

    “Online customers in Australia are quickly learning that they are safer dealing with businesses with com.au or net.au domain names because those businesses are subject to Australian consumer protection laws and the laws of Australia generally,” says Chris Disspain, CEO of .auDA, keeper of the .au domain space.

    While there are benefits to snaring the global .com domain name for your business, these names are allocated on a first come, first served basis and cyber-squatting is rife. The .au space is more regulated.

    “It must be a business, registered with an ABN and the domain name must relate to the line of business,” says Disspain. “The .com domain is not regulated in this manner, so anything goes.”

    If traffic flow to your website seems sluggish, exploit the power of the search engine. “Search engine marketing involves a detailed analysis of website structure and to improve the site’s ranking with Google and other search engines,” says Larry Bloch, CEO of NetRegistry.

    One way to optimise website visibility is to increase ‘keyword density’, the percentage of words on a page that describe your business. However, Bloch urges caution in overusing keywords, a practice known as ‘keyword stuffing’. “Get the right level of keyword density – too dense and Google thinks you’re spamming it. Your page rank will certainly suffer.”

    IT systems security is often a nagging doubt in the mind of SMEs, something you ‘really must get around to checking’. Put it off until January if you must, but every second counts. “Last month, we discovered a new virus, worm or Trojan on average every 27 minutes,” says Paul Ducklin, Asia Pacific Head of Technology for security firm Sophos.

    Implementing security software is just the first step. “Protecting your business from IT security threat is an ongoing process. We recommend prevention by applying patches, service packs and upgrades as soon as they become available,” says Ducklin.

    Policies and procedures are needed to regulate the use of an organisation’s systems. Your employees might grumble about the rules, but your network will be much more secure. “Staff need education to appreciate the reasons behind the policies and procedures, and they are also protecting themselves,” says Ducklin.

    As your business expands, your processes will become more complex, requiring more sophisticated business software. “Often, when a business starts integrating with other companies or when financial reporting requirements increase, its time to consider another software solution,” says technical architect Jamie Vachon.

    Likewise, if your system slows to a crawl as you add more users, it could be trying to tell you something. Navigating the maze of the software market can be confusing, but Vachon has some tips. “Check out magazines and analyst reports, ask the small business association relevant to your industry, try before you buy or go for a web-based hosted application.”

    The New Year also represents an opportune time to upgrade your technology, especially if you lease a commercial office and construct new networks. Here, the traditional data and voice networks can be converged using IP telephony, providing small businesses with a deceptively professional and scalable phone service.

    “With Voice Over IP, you only need to build and maintain one network,” says Biagio La Rosa, founder of network company Generation-e. “Then, you have the extra features of a data network: you can receive voicemails and faxes as emails, calls to any office can be handled by a single receptionist, and staff can remotely access all office services.”


    • What can .au do for you?
    • Harness the power of Google with search engine marketing
    • Increase your virus vigilance
    • Upgrade your telephony to exploit VoIP


    Shrink your IT spend

    The key success indicator for a new business IT system is user acceptance. If the users return to the old Excel spreadsheet after a dust up with the new system, your return on investment isn’t looking too hot.

    In a novel approach to system design, a group of industrial psychologists at Performance Technologies Group (PTG) decided to get the design right first, then build the system. What’s so novel about that idea, you ask?

    To the end user, the user interface is the system. PTG applies a patented design methodology, XPDesign, to rapidly prototype the user interface. Psychologists observe and analyse the human-computer interaction and construct a system ‘blueprint’ to guide the rest of the development lifecycle.

    PTG General Manager and Psychologist, James Breeze, says the methodology bridges the gap between requirements and design.

    “PTG offers a blend of psychology, business strategy and object oriented software engineering to create a clear line of sight between strategy and application behaviour,” says Breeze.

    “After all,” he says, “if people don’t get it, what’s the point?”



    Boost your business resources and sharpen your mind by swotting this summer. Learn a new skill or refresh an old one with a short course. Tap into a never-ending online reserve of business information: find it, read it and be inspired.

    While the January sun shines, some small businesses experience a dip in motivation, often compounded by a busy year-end. To reignite the spark and learn some new tricks, ‘Blast! into 2006’ is a series of seminars around the country in late January and early February to help put your New Year’s Resolutions into action.

    “We have a variety of speakers, some who have hit rock bottom then bounced back to become successful entrepreneurs, others who have turned a simple idea into a high-growth business,” says Wayne Mansfield, Director of Business Seminars Australia.

    Blast! into 2006 covers a range of business topics, including sales, negotiation skills, seeing the big picture, rising above the ‘sea of sameness’ and achieving that elusive work/life balance.

    Also, keep an eye out for the Australian Institute of Commercialisation entrepreneur program Ideas2Market. “We run half, full and three-day workshops for innovative businesses at different stages of the commercialisation pathway, from feasibility study to the growth phase,” says Ideas2Market Product Development Director Richard Marshall.

    Even an established company can benefit from a refresher course, and the program provides resources, case studies and contacts for building up a professional support network. The 2006 workshops begin in February around the Brisbane/Gold Coast area, with events around the country throughout the year. Online resources complement the workshops.

    No longer the domain of the full-time student, most universities offer short courses designed for business people. For example, you could do a four-day ‘MYOB Complete’ course at Melbourne’s Swinburne University in January, or two days of ‘Emotional Intelligence at Work’ with the University of Canberra in March.

    Many courses associated with universities operate during the academic semester beginning in March, but don’t be deterred. Use this time to investigate what’s on offer and sign up. Maximise your return on investment by swotting up before the course starts. Feel free to loiter in the library and access the wealth of information available through their online databases.

    So many resources, so little time. But, look at it this way: for an entrepreneur, self-improvement means business improvement. In January, put learning at the top of the priority list and reap the benefits of your newfound wisdom all year long.


    • Give your business a pick-me-up
    • Map the path to commercial success
    • Go back to university
    • Visit a library (what people did before Google)